People from the Past

In general, where information has been supplied by someone who does not live in Wales, and/or does not speak Welsh, the text will be presented in English only. However, this page is still under development and some parts will be translated into Welsh later.

When someone was born in one century and died in the next, they appear in the century relevant to the piece of information.

2000s

Professor Henry Harford Williams, born in Meidrim in 1931, became an eminent scientist, an expert in fish parasitology. He was buried at Bethania Chapel in 2018, where his headstone notes that he was the Founding Director of the Open University in Wales.

1900s

Mr Turner (still living) supplied much of the information for “Talog Past”. He married Mair Phillips in 1956 and they moved in with his mother-in-law in Talog. Mair’s father, Gomer Phillips, was born in Sarnau, Talog. Her grandfather was a cooper and ran the Castle Inn pub.  Gomer and at least one brother were teetotallers.

The father of Professor Williams was Albert Owen Williams. Although not born in Talog, he was adopted by the Davies family of Tessant who provided his training as a tailor. In the First World War he was the victim of a mustard gas attack, and while recovering in a field hospital, he contracted Spanish flu. Eventually he returned to West Wales and set up a tailoring shop in in a shed in Meidrim.

John Davies, 1891 – 1965

So where did the anvil first ring for John Davies, Champion Farrier of Great Britain five times?

John Davies

John Davies was born in Talog on 3 November 1891 to David and Anna Davies of Ffynnon-madog. He was one of eleven children born to them, six while they were living in the parish.

David and Anna were married at the non-conformist Tabernacle Baptist Chapel by the Rev. David Roberts of Bethania Chapel, Talog, on 12 November 1885.

Life for John was carefree until he went to school and he was able to wander with other children among the farms and along the banks of the river Cywyn, but he was always attracted to the smithy with its fire and the drama of shaping metal and watching horses being shod.

Home was just a short walk away and he would spend hours at the smithy. The blacksmith was a short and stout man, and John described him as being kind man, particularly to children, and he allowed John and others to ‘play’ at knocking on the anvil.  Playing wasn’t enough for John and he soon began to learn the neccessary cadences required to succesfully shape metal.

So much so that he learnt to match the style of the smith, probably David Thomas, who took the opportunity of leaving him at the smithy while he walked across the road to the Castle Inn to ‘slake his thirst’. This earned John many pennies to spend at the shop, as it meant that David’s wife Mary would be content that work was being done. If she could not hear the sound of the anvil she would come across to the smithy and strike it, imitating a waiting customer and calling David back to work.

David told John’s father that because of his interest, unlike the other boys who came to the smithy, he might actually make a blacksmith which, even at such a young age, he had suggested as his ambition. Though he was cautioned that the trade required strength and commitment.

At age seven the family moved away to Llangain outside Carmarthen and he went to school until the age of about 12. But across the fields he could hear the sound of the two smithies at Brook village which he visited when he could. He confided there that it was his intention to be a blacksmith but was told that it was a hard trade to learn.

He spent four years working on a local farm, ‘to get his back up’ as his father said. He was then apprenticed to Henry Evans at Pantyrhin Forge just outside Llangain on the road to Carmarthen. His father put down the not inconsiderable sum at the time of £8 for the indenture, to be returned when John completed his apprenticeship.

After three “hard but happy years’’ and to the surprise and pleasure of both him and his father he received £10 back.

John then spent a year at Llanfynydd as an ‘improver’ where they also made and repaired farming tools and implements, using various grades of iron, not just cast iron which he had been used to. This experience he said was of great value to him in later years when there were fewer horses needing to be shod.

The turning point in his career was when he went to Carmarthen and worked at the Cambrian Forge in the centre of town near the cattle market. Owned by John Issaac, John desribed him as being not only a clever craftsman but also  a good business man who taught him the way to run a forge.

It was here that John Isaac, noticing his skill and commitment, encouraged John to enter competitions. Taking part not only provided the challenge to develop skills but also confirm skills and attract business, promoting the forge as a centre of excellence.

John qualified first as a Registered Shoeing Smith [RSS] and later as an Associate of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, their highest award by examination, recognising him as a master farrier.

That John continued at Cambrian Forge is a credit to John Isaac owner of the forge. But it also shows that they got on well – evidenced that John was later able to purchase the business – and that he was recognised as being an asset to the business. Competent and well-liked.

His skills were widely recognised and it was later said of him that he ‘could make a lame horse trot.’

It brought him a very comfortable living and in the agricultural community ‘position and influence’. He was elected Secretary and later President of the Carmarthenshire Master Farriers Association.

John won over 100 competitions throughout England and Wales, including the prestigious Capewell Challenge Shield three times and in 1923 he brought the Champion Farrier of Great Britain Shield to Wales for the first time. Eventually five times.

He was always in demand as a judge, not only the ‘grand’ agricultural shows but also happy to support smaller shows and encourage those willing to learn ‘the arts and mysteries of the craft’.

John’s quiet demeanour hid a kind and generous personality who when encouraged in later years by his many grandchildren would often include funny stories of the happy, carefree times he spent as young boy in Talog, where he first heard the ring of the anvil.

John Davies, AFCL, Master Farrier, died at Glangwili Hospital on 27 August 1965. Enw da yw’r trysor gorau

In an extract from “How I became a Blacksmith”, some notes written by John Davies, he recalled an incident involving “Dafi Gof”, the Talog blacksmith.

Contributed in 2021 by Jeff and James John Herschel, David-Miles James and Johanna Kerslake. Four of his grandchildren.

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Thomas Richard Thomas shopkeeper, Talog Stores. In 1914 he lent the Eisteddfod Committee £40 to purchase and store a marquee(approximately equivalent to £11,614.73 in 2021). There were 36 signatories to the agreement – click here to see the names and addresses. In 1920 TR Thomas organised transport from Cynwyl Elfed station of the ex-army hut which became YMCA Hall in Talog.

Mair Davies lived as a child at Pantdwrgwns, Talog. Baptist missionary in India from 1927 to 1967

Gwilym Wilkins: Chapel Deacon, and conductor of the Bethania Chapel choir

Gwynfor Phillips: Chapel Deacon and Secretary

1800s

  • Talog shop was established in 1836, and in 1851 was run by Thomas Thomas. Several of the Thomas family died in an epidemic in 1854, and the family was nearly wiped out.
  • The Rebecca Riots were a series of protests between 1839 and 1843 by local farmers and workers in response to perceived unfair taxation. Three men from Talog: Thomas Thomas; John Harries, of Talog Mill; and Samuel Brown a farmer from Brynmeini Farm; refused to pay the tolls and were fined £2 each with 8s 6d costs (about £2.42p), at a time when a farm worker earned £2.10s.0d (£2.50p) a year, a hefty penalty!
  • In 1839 Jacob Jones of Rhydgarregddu agreed to rent land for Bethania Chapel to be built. The Indenture lists 22 signatories.

1700s

John Howell, 1781 – 1819. Surgeon in East India Company

Jeni Molyneux, who lives in England, discovered she has many ancestors from Abernant, Trelech a’r Bettws, and Talog. It was the uncovering of Howell and Thomas family papers and letters, firstly at Pembrokeshire Records Office, then at the National Library of Wales, and then at Northamptonshire Records Office, that has made this primary research possible. The papers were all collected by the Rev. Thomas Thomas, himself an amateur antiquarian, as well as a clergyman. In 2019 she gave a talk in St Lucia’s Church, Abernant, about her ancestor, John Howell. He was born in 1781 at Rhydygarregddu, Talog, and went to India as a surgeon. This transcript of her interesting talk also mentions other relatives from the area. It is reproduced here with kind permission from Jeni Molyneux who retains the copyright of this article.

John Howell 5th November 1781- 28th June 1819
Surgeon in the East India Company -7th Regiment Native Infantry
from Rhydd y Garreg Ddu, Talog, to Kissengunge, India.

On 30th June 2019 a memorial service was held at St Lucia’s Church, Abernant to remember the life of this young Welsh boy from Talog, Carmarthenshire.


John Howell (his father Thomas Howell tells us in a letter written in 1785 to his brother in law) that John, his youngest son was born at 4pm on the afternoon of 5th November 1781 at the farm Rhydd y garreg ddu. John’s eldest brother was Howell Howell, five years older, and born in 1776 in Abernant. Howell Howell farmed nearby at Cwmgest until his death in 1840. It was this older brother Howell Howell who worded, and arranged for the above memorial in St. Lucia’s church to be erected in his brother’s memory.


John, as the youngest brother with no expected inheritance, had to make another way in life. He seems to have been supported financially and most probably to have been educated by his ‘Anwyl Ewythr’ the Rev. Thomas Thomas who was a curate at Isham and Farndon in Leicestershire. At the turn of the century in 1800 John Howell is 19 years old and he is already a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Four years later, in 1804 and aged 23 he achieves his MD and becomes a surgeon in London.

The following year, the Rev. Thomas Thomas receives a letter dated 6th February 1805 from John Howell’s parents Rosamond and Thomas Howell asking his advice about ‘how to raise £150 for India equipment’. However, luck prevails and a few months later, in 1805, John Howell is appointed Assistant Surgeon for Bengal, India, in the East India Company. John Howell sailed to Calcutta on the ship Britannia as 3rd mate arriving in Bengal in December 1805 to take up his appointment.


On the 3rd of March 1806 John Howell entered the Indian Medical Service as an Assistant Surgeon in Benares, India. (Present day Varanasi). No more is heard of John Howell’s life in India for the next 9 years…

  • Then in May 1814, aged 33 John Howell writes to his uncle the Rev. Thomas Thomas about ‘having had a bad horse-riding accident and his consequent poor health that he is suffering’
  • 1814 John Howell took a furlough to travel home because of certified sickness.
  • 16th June 1814 John Howell, surgeon, left Calcutta on board the ship Matilda to return home to Portsmouth. There were two employees of the East India Company coming home from Calcutta: Mr John Howell, and Captain S. Lutwige of the 11th native infantry who was also on sick leave.
  • 16th December 1814 In a letter John Howell on arrival from India to Portsmouth is writing to his uncle the Rev. Thomas Thomas at Farndon describing a very painful voyage at sea. John Howell is clearly not well.
  • 8th June 1815 Rev. Thomas Thomas writes to his niece Phoebe’s husband the Rev. Thomas Skeel at Newhouse, Pembrokeshire asking him to come and collect john Howell from “Mr Talbot’s madhouse” in Bethnal Green.
    • “The fall from his horse in Asia probably is the primary cause of his derangement having affected his spine and brain… his removal to his native air is possibly a salutary means of recovery. There is more to be said about John Howell’s affairs than I can explain on paper. Mr Talbot is to have £1.11.6 pence per week, besides some extra expenses each week. avour me with a reply as soon as possible. In much trouble of mind”
  • In that summer of 1815 John Howell is rescued from Bethnal Green, by his cousin’s husband the Rev Thomas Skeel, and taken to Millbrook House, Carmarthen, to recover his sanity.
  • In 1817 John Howell returned to duty as Assistant Surgeon with the East India Company in Bengal with the 7th regiment of native infantry.
  • In 1818 John Howell was nominated a Surgeon by Sir H. Inglis. Bart.

John Howell died on 28th June 1819 aged 38 at Kissengunge, Maharashtra, India. The memorial was requested by him to be placed in St Lucia’s Church, Abernant.

John Harries of Talog Mill

Jeni Molyneux also provided information about John Harries (1793-1879) who was involved in the Rebecca Riots.

John Harries was born in nearby Newchurch on 3rd March 1793 to Solomon Harries (1762 – 1844) and his wife Elizabeth John (1755 – 1835). He married Mary James on the 18th May 1820 when he was aged 27. On the 1841 census they were living at Sarne Mill, Talog.  Mary was aged 50, John 45, and their two children, Henry 12, and Elizabeth 14 

  • Their daughter Anne was married to Jacob Jones, and they lived at the farm Rhydd-y-garreg-ddu in Talog.
  • Their daughter Sophia was married to William Davies, and was living at Posty Uchaf, the farmstead where her mother, Mary, was born.
  • Their daughter Elizabeth married John Philipps of Esgerfa

John Harries’ wife, Mary, predeceased him on 22 February 1842. John Harries himself died from ‘cancer of the lip’ aged 86 on the 16th August 1879 at Cilcrug in Abernant.  Margaret Davies, his granddaughter, was present at his death.

Probate was granted to David Davies, cooper of Talog, and John Davies. In his will 1st April 1878 John Harries leaves £150 to his eldest son Henry Harries, who was living in California, and money to his other children.

Jeni provided this interesting photograph of some descendants of John Harries who lived in America.